How Do You Say the Plural Form of 'Octopus'?

iStock.com/richcarey
iStock.com/richcarey

Few people have seen more than one octopus in the same place at the same time—they’re usually solitary creatures, after all—but let’s suppose you did. What would you call them? Octopi? Octopuses? Perhaps octopodes? People have been quibbling over the correct plural form of octopus for well over a century, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, and it’s still a sore spot among word-lovers.

Quartz argues that only one way is grammatically correct—and it’s not octopi. Octopus stems from the Greek word oktopous, and technically, Greek words ending in -pus (like platypus) should be made plural by adding -podes (meaning feet) to the end. Latin words, on the other hand, are sometimes made plural with an -i ending—like stimuli and syllabi, for example.

Since the word octopus was originally Greek, it seems only logical that its plural form would be octopodes. Similarly, rhinoceros should become rhinocerotes, and stadium should become stadia. However, using these pretentious plural forms for the sake of grammatical purity would be absurd. Most words that enter English are pluralized according to the rules of English, rather than the rules of their “native form,” Merriam-Webster explains.

That leaves us with octopuses. Indeed, this form is perfectly correct, but some people still cringe when they say it. In the late 1800s, an article entitled “Octopus Philology” declared, “Some daring spirits with little Latin and less Greek rushed upon octopi; as for octopuses, a man would as soon think of swallowing one of the animals thus described as pronounce such a word at a respectable tea-table.” The article went on to recommend the use of octopods, which, fortunately, didn't stick.

However, both Merriam-Webster and the Oxford English Dictionary list octopi as an acceptable plural alongside octopuses. (Octopi is also a valid Scrabble word.) As the dictionary advises, "If you're interested in choosing the word that is most likely to be considered correct and understandable by your audience you would do well to opt for either octopuses or octopi."

So next time, go easy on the internet stranger in the comments who has just written octopuses—they're not wrong.

[h/t Quartz]

Amazon's Best Cyber Monday Deals on Tablets, Wireless Headphones, Kitchen Appliances, and More

Amazon
Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Cyber Monday has arrived, and with it comes some amazing deals. This sale is the one to watch if you are looking to get low prices on the latest Echo Dot, Fire Tablet, video games, Instant Pots, or 4K TVs. Even if you already took advantage of sales during Black Friday or Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday still has plenty to offer, especially on Amazon. We've compiled some the best deals out there on tech, computers, and kitchen appliances so you don't have to waste your time browsing.

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Video Games

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What Is a Scuttlebutt, and Why Do We Like to Hear It?

Photo by Courtney Nuss on Unsplash

Casual conversation is home to a variety of prompts. You might ask someone how they’re doing, what’s new, or if they’ve done anything interesting recently. Sometimes, you can ask them what the scuttlebutt is. “What’s the scuttlebutt?” you’d say, for example, and then they’d reply with the solicited scuttlebutt.

We can easily infer that scuttlebutt is a slang term for information or maybe even gossip. But what exactly is scuttlebutt, and why did it become associated with idle water cooler talk?

According to Merriam-Webster, a scuttlebutt referred to a cask on sailing ships in the 1800s that contained drinking water for those on board. It was later used as the name of the drinking fountain found on a ship or in a Naval installation. The cask was known as a butt, while scuttle was taken from the French word escoutilles and means hatch or hole. A scuttlebutt was therefore a hatch in the cask.

Because sailors usually received orders from shouting supervisors, talking amongst themselves was discouraged. Since sailors could congregate around the fountain, it became a place to finally catch up and exchange gossip, making scuttlebutt synonymous with casual conversation. The scuttlebutt was really the only place to do it.

Nautical technology made the scuttlebutt obsolete, but the term endured, becoming a catch-all word for unfounded rumors.

The next time someone asks you what the scuttlebutt is, now you can tell them.

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